Many companies, like Google, Twitter, and Facebook, have made headlines recently by creating broad-sweeping policies and benefits designed to support and, ultimately, retain their workforces through this time of uncertainty. Many companies have given their employees the option to work remotely forever, eliminating the guesswork of planning for a return-to-office future. Companies, like Salesforce, are offering new parental leave benefits and a yearlong commitment to remote work options. All of these offerings are generous and meaningful. But I often wonder what employers are doing to support their leader communities.
When the pandemic began in March, many of us bunkered down for a long summer with the hope that, come fall, we would see in-person schooling reopen. It would be a tough few weeks, maybe even months, we thought, but come September, things would begin to return to normal. In many ways, though, we’re heading into the fall in the same position we were in at the start of all of this pandemic. Most workplaces remain virtual only, with physical offices closed. And the end of summer brings digital learning back to many peoples “to do” lists or maybe more accurately their “things to juggle and stress about” list. That old metaphor about the spinning plates feels more precarious than ever. Our resilience is being tested and our family lives are hectic.
And your leaders aren’t just managing the impact this pandemic has had on their personal lives, they’re also leading their people through an unprecedented work experience. When it comes to your company’s success, you need strong leaders at the helm, and how you help (or don’t help) them through this season could have a dramatic impact on their decisions to stay at your company.
When teams are stressed, leaders work harder
Unquestionably, your business has been impacted by the pandemic in some way. Maybe you’re a tech company that’s benefited from the increased demand for digital storefronts or remote work tools, and business is booming. Or maybe you’re company is doing more with less to respond to pivots in the travel and hospitality industries. Regardless of the impact, though, you’re probably asking your leaders to tackle big problems and lead their teams to strong outcomes.
People leaders have always been in a stressful position. They need to inspire their teams to execute the work while managing up and steering their piece of the strategy. Now more than ever they’re feeling the squeeze.
The leave time and flexibility that’s been created by some of the policies employers are launching has likely been tremendous for individual contributors. If you’re an individual contributor, I can encourage you to manage your time with a flexible schedule and offer some other amenities that keep you comfortable. But there are more demands on people leaders. Like I said, there always have been, but now they are burning the candle at both ends (and maybe a little bit in the middle).
Burnout could be on the horizon as a result and if you don’t have a plan to retain your leaders, another employer might turn their eye. The job market may not be as hot as it was this time last year, but high-performing, high-potential leaders will always be in demand.
Find ways to show empathy
Sure. Facebook and Salesforce are making grand gestures, which are phenomenal, but you might not have the resources to create flashy programs like this. And the truth is, generous, one-size-fits-all offerings might not even solve the issues. Showing empathy takes an understanding of each of your team members’ struggles and needs. The single mother might have different needs than the person with the elderly parent. But if you can find ways to show empathy for your leaders by creating programs that matter to them, you’ll be able to hang on to your top talent through this uncertain time.
Before you start worrying about whether or not you can afford to offer parental leave, know your employees and what they need. There’s a lot of growth potential in community-driven offerings, like resource and affinity groups among team members working through similar challenges. Likewise, introducing new team norms, like when communication can or should occur and when leaders are allowed to pause notifications to either get work done or look after a personal need, could go a long way. It’s more important than ever to offer support that’s relevant to them. Some team members may be working through homeschool schedules, while others may be caring for elderly parents or immunocompromised family members. Unfortunately, some may be grieving the loss of a friend or family member.
So do you understand what your leaders’ schedules are? Do you know how things have changed for them? What challenges they’re facing? Leaving personal lives at home is literally impossible with everyone logging in remotely these days. And our home lives are influencing our work more than they ever have. And the collapse of the traditional school day schedule has wiped out many of our norms. Kids aren’t waiting for the school bus at 7:30 in the morning, and we’re not all heading out to school pick up at 5 p.m. Lunchtime used to be the time to catch up with everyone, but now it’s the time folks are looking for a screen break or maybe trying to help their kids with a math assignment. Are you creating space within the workday for your leaders to tackle what needs doing?
Before this pandemic, the market for talent was slim. Attracting and retaining high-performing, strategic-minded leaders, in particular, is something every company invested time and money into before 2020. Now is not the time to let those investments languish.
Hiring may have cooled in some industries, but your most talented leaders can pivot to new industries if they feel you’re not meeting their personal needs. So make sure you have a plan in place to keep them. It doesn’t have to be flashy or expensive, but it does need to reflect empathy for what they’re experiencing right now.